Should I Move to Berlin? A Guide to the Hardships of Life in Germany’s Capital City

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This is a guest post by Paul Fowler. Paul is a former resident of London, Cardiff, Buenos Aires and Bogota. He now calls Berlin home, where he works for Kreuzberg-based travel startup trip.me

For a good few years now there has been a buzz around Berlin as a startup hub, and today the city’s streets teem with wide-eyed twenty-somethings in search of jobs in growing companies. We all want to be part of the next Airbnb, right?

Combine this excitement with the city’s worldwide reputation for partying and culture and it’s easy to see why young, talented individuals are making their way in droves towards the graffiti-ridden streets of Berlin. But what’s life like for those who make the move? Does Berlin live up to its promise as a viable city for young professionals, or is it merely a place to extend your university years a little longer while earning less money than you would in McDonald’s?

I moved to Berlin a little more than a year ago from Colombia (where I was living for 3 years). It’s been a tumultuous time with a fair share of ups and downs (I’m looking at you, Monday), but overall it’s been a great move and one I’d recommend to most people that are considering it. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind before coming, so I’ve prepared a brief list of the hardships you might face, followed by a few of the upsides (there are too many for just one list).

The hardships of living in Berlin #1 – The Wages

For CEOs and entrepreneurs Berlin is a paradise: low rental costs and a cheap workforce mean a huge potential margin for profit. As part of that cheap workforce, however, you may not be so thrilled.

Bootstrapping in Berlin is de facto. It’s the done thing. Employees from startups aren’t out during the weekdays sipping champagne in Mitte, they’re wandering the streets of Neukolln, going from Spati to Spati with a bottle of Sternie. Since the cost of living is so low in Berlin many CEOs see low wages as no problem and since people are so keen to move here you can even find whole workforces of poorly paid interns.

Interns are regularly paid €450 a month, and regular employees very rarely make much more than €1000. It ain’t pretty, make no mistake about it.

On the bright side: Despite rising prices, the overall cost of living is incredibly low. With a bit of budgeting and an appetite for microwave noodles it’s not so difficult to manage. Plus you actually do get paid, which sets Berlin apart from London.

The hardships of living in Berlin #2 – The Housing

Finding housing in Berlin is a long, difficult process marked by painfully awkward interviews and hours spent sending eager applications into a sea of unrequited interest. It’s an awful and sometimes humiliating process, but competition is stiff.

Not only that, prices are rising, neighborhoods are getting gentrified and it’s getting harder and harder to find somewhere that suits you.

Unfortunately there’s not much you can complain about here since you are part of the problem. Yup, it’s us pesky foreigners making our way in hordes that are causing the price hikes, and it’s us pesky foreigners that are driving locals away from their traditional neighborhoods. So if you want housing in Berlin to stop changing then, frankly, don’t come. But you don’t want that, do you?

So, expect to pay a lot more than someone who moved here 2 years ago, and expect that same person to complain a lot about it.

On the bright side: If you’re moving from just about any other capital city in Western Europe or the States or basically anywhere, you’ll still be paying very reasonable rent prices.

See WG Gesucht for the best options.

The hardships of living in Berlin #3 – The Taxes

We all like what taxes bring us, but very few people would say they enjoy paying tax, and in Germany that tax is pretty high. Add onto that the notorious complications that come along with German bureaucracy and you have yourself one of the most unpleasant tax experiences of your life.

In fact the whole process is so difficult that people make a living out of wading through the tax system for newcomers and organising the whole thing for them.

On the bright side: You get what you pay for: excellent public transport (that runs 24 hours on weekends), excellent health care and, for the most part, a clean city that’s constantly developing.

The hardships of living in Berlin #4 – The Job-Hunt

Unless you’re a programmer, finding work in Berlin is a tough gig. Finding well-paid work (as you may have guessed by now) is even harder. This is thanks to the fact that, shockingly, there are many people with as many qualifications as you (and in many cases more) who want to move to Berlin and work. So, despite the amount of startups popping up all the time, it’s an incredibly competitive place to find employment, and you should be prepared to do everything you can to stand out.

On the bright side: Once you do find a job it’s likely to be in a fun, relaxed environment with people similar to yourself (and possibly free beer on Fridays).

Check out Berlin Startup Jobs for some invaluable help in your search.

The hardships of living in Berlin #5 – The Temptation

If you’re in anyway inclined towards enjoying a city’s nightlife, Berlin will seem like some kind of hedonistic paradise and you’re very likely to be lured into partying from the evening until the next day (or possibly the following day). Great news for your social life, terrible news for your body and your professional life.

Many people call this the “party vortex” and it’s very easy to get sucked in and allow work to take a backseat in your priority list, but there are surely only so many days you can arrive to work pale, sweating and 3 hours late before your boss loses patience with you.

Going to Berghain at 6pm on Sunday when you have work the next day is not – repeat: is not – a good idea.

On the bright side: If you exercise a little self-control and keep your partying to the weekends (for the most part) you can have the best of both worlds: an unforgettable nightlife with great cultural offerings and a great job.

That’s a good enough reason to move anywhere, right?

Image: Felicitas Hackmann